Health insurer WellPoint will receive guidance from cancer institution Cedars-Sinai on developing treatment options using IBM's Watson supercomputer.
The next assignment for IBM's
is to evaluate treatments for cancer. Health insurer
WellPoint, which is looking into real-life applications for Watson, has
announced that a leading cancer institution in Los Angeles, Cedars-Sinai's
Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute, will provide expertise to the
company on developing applications based on IBM's Watson data-analytics
Cedars-Sinai is a medical
facility focused on diagnosing and treating many types of cancers. WellPoint
offers health plans such as Blue Cross and Unicare.
"As we design the
WellPoint health care systems that leverage IBM Watson's capabilities, it is
essential that we incorporate the highly specialized knowledge and real-life
practice experiences of the nation's premier clinical experts," Dr. Harlan
Levine, executive vice president of WellPoint's Comprehensive Health Solutions,
said in a statement.
Watson allows doctors to
understand the large amounts of clinical data and patient histories in medical
libraries. The supercomputer gained fame on "Jeopardy" earlier this
year and incorporates deep computing and data analytics as well as natural-language
processing (NLP) capabilities from Nuance Communications
WellPoint plans to expand
the use of Watson
to specialists such as cardiologists and pediatricians,
Anthony Nguyen, WellPoint's senior vice president of care management, told eWEEK
By working with WellPoint,
IBM hopes to coordinate communication among health care providers, benefits
administrators and patients.
WellPoint announced its
collaboration with Cedars-Sinai Dec. 16.
A large amount of
information and numerous sources of data make oncology an area that could
potentially benefit from Watson, said Dr. M. William Audeh, medical director of
the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Center, which is part of the Oschin
Institute at Cedars-Sinai.
"I think that's the
kind of challenge that lends itself to a supercomputer like Watson, to try to
integrate all of that information," said Audeh.
"What we're talking about
is the genomic revolution; genomic information is now being applied more and
more to cancer medicine," Audeh added. "New technologies for both
diagnosis and treatment and targeted therapies are contributing to the large
complexity, and that's why I think the time is right to apply a computer-based
approach of the sort that Watson offers to integrate all of that
Although Cedars-Sinai won't
use Watson itself, as part of the agreement, the institute will advise
WellPoint on which clinical content to include in future applications built
using the supercomputer, Audeh explained.
Selecting the information to
feed into Watson is challenging and complicated.
"It's a very
complicated process to, first of all, select the basic information that needs
to go into Watson to make it well-informed about all the various kinds of
cancer treatments and all the nuances of information that surround a patient
with cancer," said Audeh.
Using its data analytics and
NLP capabilities, Watson would integrate data such as medical literature,
patient histories, clinical trials, side effects and outcomes data to help
doctors decide on courses of treatment.
"I think the hope is
that Watson would be taught to integrate basic standard information from the
medical literature, from clinical trials, from all the guidelines that have
been developed by the medical societies into a database that can then look at
an individual patient's particular characteristics," said Audeh.
Watson would also look at
the characteristics of a patient's cancer and make recommendations on
cost-effective treatment that would lead to the best outcome, he added.
"All of that [would]
not replace a physician but provide a more comprehensive resource for all of
the medically relevant information than any doctor can currently access on a
computer, said Audeh.
With the many possible ways
to go about cancer treatment, Watson technology could be helpful in evaluating
these methods, said Audeh.
WellPoint plans to launch an
application based on Watson next year in clinical pilots.
In addition, IBM announced
in May an expansion of its Analytics
Solutions Center in Dallas
to link health data to electronic health records
(EHRs) on mobile devices using NLP and data analytics similar to that of
Other health care IT giants
have also been active recently in developing technology to help find treatments
for cancer. In November, Dell donated a cloud infrastructure to the
Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) for storing data from a
personalized medicine trial for pediatric cancer.
In another development,
General Electric pledged $100 million to cancer research over the next five years.